Tag Archives: Main Courses

Great for Guests: Make-Your-Own Pizza Party

29 Mar

Entertaining a crowd?  I love to cook, but I also love to talk and drink wine (and I don’t love spending a boatload of money on fancy ingredients).  When the mood strikes me to have guests over, or if I’m having an out-of-towner stay with me (which happens all the time when you live in sunny Southern California), I like to trot out the idea of the Make-Your-Own Pizza Party.  Because everything sounds more fun when you tack the word “Party” on the end of it.  And add wine (did I mention I love to drink wine?).

Luckily, T has both a classic dough recipe and a classic topping recipe in her book.  Let’s turn to page 200, shall we?

BASIC PIZZA DOUGH (enough for 16-inch pizza)
2 1/2C flour
1t salt
1 1/2t dry active yeast
3/4C plus 2T warm water
2T olive oil
Cornmeal

Mix flour and salt on work surface.  Make a well in the center.  Sprinkle yeast into the well.  Add two tablespoons warm water, mixing with fingertips until yeast is dissolved.  Pour in remaining water with olive oil.  Starting from inside of circle, gradually brush flour into liquid with fingers.  Gather into a ball and knead until smooth and elastic for about 7 to 10 minutes.  If dough is sticky, knead in additional flour.  Form dough into a circle and place on a lightly-greased cookie sheet.  Cover with waxed paper and towel and set in warm place to rise until doubled in volume.  Place dough on pizza pan that has been sprinkled with cornmeal and stretch with hands until dough is 1/4-inch thick.  Top with your favorite topping and bake at 425 degrees for 15-20 minutes.

TOMATO-MUSHROOM TOPPING
2T olive oil
1/2 onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2lb fresh mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
1 16oz. can whole tomatoes
1t sugar
Salt and pepper
1/4lb mozzarella cheese, shredded
1/4C grated Parmesan cheese

Saute onion, garlic and mushrooms in olive oil.  Drain tomatoes and squeeze dry.  Add to onion, garlic and mushroom mixture with sugar; add salt and pepper to taste.  Simmer together for about 5 minutes.  Cover pizza dough with tomato topping, sprinkle with cheeses.  Bake as directed.

Because this party was “Make-Your-Own,” we did!  I added pepperoni and ricotta, and my house guest went nuts– caramelized onions, fresh tomatoes, basil– you name it.  It was fun and delicious and the perfect way to cap off a super-joyful, super-busy weekend.  No stress, minor mess.  Mangia!

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Fantastic For Friends: Basic Risotto

5 Mar

I am very lucky in that I have friends who I love, who love to eat.  They are fun to cook for and even more fun to enjoy a meal with.  I’m also lucky (and flattered!) that they think I’m a good cook.  They’re actually impressed (trust me, few people are ever impressed with what I’m doing).  What’s important to note here is that there are a few recipes in my bag of tricks that I go back to again and again, so they’ve been perfected over the years.  And once you’ve mastered the basic to do’s, you can add delicious things like your favorite veggies or proteins.  I’ve made risotto easily a hundred times using T’s recipe, which is foolproof (so get cooking, fools!).

BASIC RISOTTO (Serves 4)
2T butter
1T olive oil
1/2 large white onion, diced (or a small yellow onion)
2 cloves garlic (more or less, depending on what you like)
1C arborio rice
1/4C dry white wine
5C (one box if store-bought) low-sodium chicken broth, heated to a simmer in a separate pot
1/2C grated Parmesan cheese

Heat one tablespoon butter and olive oil in saucepan over low heat and saute onion until soft and translucent, about five minutes.  Add rice and stir until it is well-coated with butter and oil and slightly toasted.  Add wine and cook until almost evaporated.

Add hot chicken broth in approximately three or four installments, only adding once the previous addition is absorbed.  Cook over medium heat, uncovered, and stir now and then.  The risotto is ready when the rice is creamy but firm.  Turn off heat, adding remaining one tablespoon of butter and grated cheese.  Serve immediately with extra cheese for grating on top.

NOTE: Even though it is NOT traditional to mix seafood and cheese, during the final stock addition, I add 1/2lb. sea scallops and 1/2lb. medium peeled shrimp (tails removed).  I also commit a culinary sin by not cooking the fish separately and adding it at the end when serving the rice.  Cook it all together!  It’s easier and only takes a few minutes (so as not to overcook the seafood).  It also involves less pans to clean, and tastes just fine.  I’ve never heard any complaints.  And the seafood makes you seem fancy to all of your guests.

This is probably too monochromatic-- if you're feeling really luxurious, add a little chopped flat-leaf parsley.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I can’t tell you the number of people I talk to who say risotto seems intimidating.  While it does take a time commitment (about an hour of active chopping, stirring and plating), it’s so relaxed and casual, it’s the perfect time to perch your pals on kitchen chairs and get the latest dirt over the wine you already had to open to cook the rice.  Just don’t be surprised after you make it the first time, you’ll get the request again and again.  Mangia!

Proposal Pasta: Penne with Squid and Eggplant Sauce

29 Feb

Love is in the air at For Antonina headquarters.  Within the past few months, not one, not two, but ALL THREE of my younger girl cousins (we’ll call them “The Capassoettes”) have become engaged.  Robin first, followed by Margaret a few weeks ago and topped off with little Gina, just this past weekend.  Three lucky fellows are getting into this fabulous family, indeed!

Robin and Gus, sweet and happy

Margie and... her fiance is German, so, Europe!

Gina and Josh (Gina is clearly bored by the whole thing)

In celebration, I present to you a fancy pasta dish, capable of warming the heart of even the coldest spinster residing in me… uh, all of us.  Perfect for a proposal, a hot date or a night watching movies and drinking excessively with your sexy single pals.

PASTA WITH SQUID AND EGGPLANT SAUCE (Serves 6 to 8)
1lb eggplant, peeled and cut into 3/4 inch pieces
1/2C olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
2lbs small squid, cleaned, bodies cut into 1/8 inch rings and tentacles chopped (you can usually find these already prepped at the grocery fish counter)
3 large tomatoes, peeled and chopped
1C dry red wine
1/4t dried thyme
1/4t oregano
1/3C parsley, chopped
1t salt
1/4t red pepper flakes
1lb penne pasta

Heat the oil and saute the eggplant, onion and garlic over moderate heat in a 2-quart pot until golden.  Add the squid, tomatoes, wine, thyme, oregano, parsley, salt and red pepper flakes.  Bring to a boil and simmer, covered, for 45 minutes.

Cook penne is salted boiling water until al dente.  Drain and toss with sauce.

The sauce simmers for a while so, while you wait, you can shop for wedding gifts online.  Congratulations, Capassoettes!  Now who’s ready for their fondue pot?  Mangia!

Clearly Carbonara: Pasta with Cheese, Ham and Eggs

25 Jan

Some of the recipes in T’s book are slightly old-fashioned or not necessarily en vogue.  And some others are totally hip and way more common than they were 30 years ago when the book was published.  But they’re now known by their Italian name, rather than the 1980’s Americanized name that T might have used when she originally wrote this.

We’ve been cooking carbonara in my family for as long as I can remember, but it took me FOREVER to find it in T’s cookbook, because it’s listed under the extremely generic “Cheese, Ham and Eggs Pasta” recipe.  And while ham may have been appropriate for the American palate in 1982, we always used pancetta.  I encourage you to do the same.

PASTA WITH CHEESE, HAM AND EGGS (Serves 4 to 6)
2 or 3 slices ham, cut into strips or cubes (alternatively, 8oz. pancetta, cut into strips or cubes)
2T butter (only if using ham)
3 eggs
1C grated Parmesan cheese
Approximately 1/2 pint heavy cream
Freshly ground black pepper (grind slightly more than you think you need)
1lb pasta (I use linguine, but T likes seashells)

Lightly saute ham in butter (if using pancetta, omit butter and drain off some of the grease).  Combine room temperature eggs with grated cheese and room temperature cream, reserving some cream.  Cook pasta in salted water, drain and place in a deep bowl.  Add egg mixture and the meat and toss quickly until egg and cheese have formed a sauce that sticks to the pasta.  Add freshly ground black pepper and toss again quickly.  If mixture is too thick, add more cream.  Serve at once with additional grated cheese.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

NOTE: my mother always added cooked peas to the pasta with the black pepper.  I haaaaaate peas, so I don’t do that.  But if you want to add a vegetable, this is a great option.

This recipe is so good, I had my Pilates teacher over for dinner last night and she (and I) had two helpings each.  If she can splurge, so can you.  Mangia!

Winter Warmer: Chicken a la King

19 Jan

It’s supposed to rain in Los Angeles this weekend.  And I hear there was hail (and tornado sirens!) in St. Louis this past week.  It’s snowy back in Boston (where I lived once upon a time) and cold and cruddy in Pittsburgh (another former home base).  Weather-wise, I have it pretty good here in Southern California, and I never miss the snow.  But I do miss the excuse to hunker down with some good, old-fashioned comfort food.

This isn’t Italian, but it is something my mom used to make for my family all the time during the dark days between autumn and spring.  It is super-duper old school.  Which means you have to do old-school things before eating.  Play outside, make snow angels, admire your snowmen, and so forth.  Then, pull off your parkas, get into the kitchen and cook up something warmly winter-appropriate.  Mangia!

Rose and Annette show off their masterpiece

CHICKEN A LA KING (Serves 6)
1/2C finely chopped onion
1/4C finely chopped green pepper
2t butter
1 8oz. package cream cheese, softened
1 10 1/2oz. can cream of mushroom soup
1 4oz. can sliced mushrooms, undrained
Dash freshly ground pepper
2C cooked chicken, diced
2T dry sherry
6 large biscuits (homemade or heated)

Saute onion and green pepper in butter.  Blend in cream cheese, soup and pepper.  Stir in cooked chicken and mushrooms.  Heat to boiling and add sherry.  Serve over hot biscuits.

Teenager Trouble: Rigatoni with Fontina Cheese

12 Jan

Admit it; even the nicest people in the world go through a big, fat, sourpuss phase.  My teenage years were not rebellious– I didn’t drink, do drugs, or smoke and I was always home by curfew.  But, man, was I a back-talking pain-in-the-neck.  I guess some things never change.  I suppose it must run in the family– my mom, Rose, appears to be a piece of work, circa 1964, judging from some select archival photographic proof.

The only thing I seemed to like at that time was macaroni-and-cheese.  My mom used to joke that if they cut open my veins, powdered orange “cheese” would pulse through it.  Which, naturally, made me mad.  So in honor of your hormonally-charged bad attitude, today I encourage you to indulge your inner teenager.  Enjoy a cheese-loaded, carbohydrate-filled pubescent delicacy.

Rose with Grandmas Carolyn and Rosie. What a doll.

Me before a high school dance. Just delightful.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

RIGATONI WITH FONTINA CHEESE (Serves 6)
1lb rigatoni
6T butter
1/2lb Fontina cheese, thinly sliced or grated
2 pinches nutmeg
1C grated Parmesan cheese
Coarsely ground black pepper, to taste

Cook rigatoni in boiling salted water until almost cooked.  Drain and place in a large bowl.  Add 4 tablespoons butter, 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese and nutmeg; toss until all of the pasta is coated.

In a buttered baking dish, make a layer of pasta, a layer of Fontina, sprinkle with grated Parmesan and repeate until all the pasta is used, ending with a layer of Fontina on top.  Sprinkle with grated Parmesan and black pepper and dot with remaining butter.  Bake at 400 degrees for 15-20 minutes, or until the top is bubbly and golden brown.

This version of macaroni-and-cheese isn’t the stuff from a box, but you’ll love it, trust me.  Even if you sneer the whole time you’re eating.  Mangia!

Christmas Eve Dinner: Beef Tenderloin

27 Dec

Though I’m sure I’ll get some grief somewhere for this, we here at For Antonina are not traditionalists.  We don’t insist on Seven Fishes every Christmas Eve.  Though we love seafood, sometimes, we’re in the mood for meat.  Sure, it doesn’t follow religious tradition,  but I know T doesn’t mind.  She’s never been a stickler for anything.  Good food is good enough.

So here’s a recipe we cooked on Christmas Eve and I think it makes a great winter meal.  Meat me!

BEEF TENDERLOIN STUFFED WITH SPINACH (Serves 4)
1 2lb beef tenderloin, skinned
1 10-oz. package frozen chopped spinach
Salt and pepper
3oz. provolone cheese, shredded
1/4C grated Parmesan cheese
1/2t garlic, minced

FOR SAUCE
1/2C porcini mushrooms
1C chicken broth
1T all-purpose flour
2oz.  red wine
1t garlic, minced

Stick skewer through the center of the tenderloin and make a hole large enough to stuff.  Cook spinach and squeeze dry.  Mix with the cheese and garlic.  Stuff tenderloin.  Rub the outside of the meat with butter.  Bake, uncovered in a 300 degree oven for about 20 minutes, or to desired doneness.  Remove from oven and keep warm.

Rinse porcini and soak in the chicken broth for about 10 minutes, or until they start to soften.  Place mixture in a saucepan and bring to a boil.  Let simmer for a few minutes.  Blend flour with butter to make a roux and add to broth to thicken.  Add wine and garlic and continue to simmer for about five more minutes.  Slice beef, place on serving dishes and cover with a little sauce.

Dinner is served

We served our meat with a simple arugula salad and a side of polenta (follow package directions).  Mangia!